People sometimes wonder where the names come from. It’s quite common for people in the Pagan community to pick a different name from the one their parents gave them for a variety of reasons. Some of these include privacy, values around the power of names and words, names as a magical tool, and more.
- Why do people use different names?
- What do you call people?
- Choosing a name
Why do people use different names?
Many people still prefer not to be public about being Pagan with those they work with, some family members, neighbors, or other people in their lives for a wide variety of reasons. Using a different name (especially online) allows them to choose who they share that with.
(Some people just think religion is private. Some people have very real concerns about keeping their job, custody of their child, serious issues with harassment, problems with family or other areas.)
Respecting people’s privacy in this way is a big deal in most Pagan communities and groups – outing someone without permission is considered a really serious issue, because the impact in someone’s life can be so big (and you may not know that it would be a significant problem for them.) This is also why most Pagan events have clear photography guidelines. More about this below.
Magical or ritual reasons:
Names are powerful. In my tradition, we pick a name at Dedication (and again at initiation, and further degrees) that embodies who we want to become. Every time we use that name, we step a little closer to that version of ourselves.
These names don’t have to fill every single aspect of our desired selves, and they can sometimes be rather different than we might have thought. The name I took at my 3rd degree is something I circled around for ages, because it is more commonly associated with healing (not a thing I focus on), but I chose it for some other specific reasons, and each time I hear it or type it, I remember those things.
As a magical tool
Names can also help us step into a ritual mindset. I use Jenett these days with pretty much everyone except people through work. When someone calls me Jenett, I know it’s okay to talk about my religious life, or about interests of mine I might not want to share with co-workers.
When someone uses Althaea (the name I took at my 3rd degree which I normally use only in ritual), I know they need me in a priestess-mindset. And when someone uses the name I took at my 1st degree (which I keep private except for people I do small-group work with), it immediately kicks me into a very intimate mindset, because the only people who know that name are people I trust deeply.
What do you call people?
Fortunately, the practical etiquette is pretty simple.
Use the name you’re given
Use the name someone introduces themselves as unless you’re specifically told otherwise. Please tell them what to use for you if it hasn’t already been made clear. In writing, it’s much appreciated if you can spell it right. (It’s amazing to me how many people write Jennett or Jennet or Jenette or other variations even when they have it in front of them.)
Multiple names can get complicated, but most of the time, it’s common to know only someone’s Pagan name or their legal name, and the number of people where you know or use both is fairly rare.
Some Pagan paths use specific titles
The most commonly seen in Wiccan-based groups are the use of Lady for a 3rd degree priestess or high priestess of a group, and Lord for a 3rd degree priest or the high priest of a group. However, these days, many people only use these titles in ritual (as a sign of respect for the deities involved) or in formal correspondence and conversation (when they’re speaking on behalf of their group or tradition.)
In general, matching someone’s level of formality is a safe bet. The same way that if you write an email to someone and say “Hello, Ms. Stone.” and she writes back and signs her name Jacqueline, you would probably start your next email “Hello, Jacqueline”, you can do the same thing with titles in the Pagan community.
If you’re not sure you should use a title when addressing someone, asking is always polite. (“Do you prefer to be called X or Y?”) I always use Jenett unless I’m either in ritual, or speaking very formally for my group (when I’d use Lady Althaea or Althaea).
Your name or handle choices may imply things
Using the title Lord or Lady if you’re not a 3rd degree in a tradition that uses it may get you looked at rather oddly – or people may make assumptions about your level of skill or knowledge that aren’t accurate. These things aren’t the end of the world, but they can be awkward or uncomfortable at times.
Using a deity name as part of your name will also often imply to people that you are significantly focused on that deity. If that’s not actually the case, there may be a fair bit of confusion. The same thing can be true with strongly cultural names (like a name with a meaning in a specific language; if you pick a name with a specific meaning in ancient Egypt, people will assume that’s maybe an interest of yours.)
It is considered very rude to ‘out’ someone as being Pagan without their permission. This means you should pay attention to what information you pass on, even accidentally.
- If meeting someone in public, be aware of who might overhear. You don’t know if someone is with a co-worker or family member who doesn’t know about their path.
- Use their legal first name in public if you know it, or avoid it until you can figure out what’s ok. I’ve run into coworkers at the sites we’ve used for Seeker classes before.
- Don’t pass along someone’s contact information or name unless you’ve checked with them.
- If it’s a public group or contact, you can pass along whatever information is already public.
If you’re not sure what to call someone, a “Hi, it was great to see you last week…” avoiding a name can cover nicely. Or a “Hi, I don’t know if you remember me from a couple of weeks ago – I’m [whatever name you want them to use], I’m sorry, I forgot your name…” It not only helps someone place you, but lets them say “Oh, yes. I’m [whatever] back.”
Choosing a name
Don’t feel you need a new name
Or rather, you don’t need one unless the path, tradition, or group you’re working with requires one. (In which case, they probably have some help for you on what to consider.) They’re a really useful tool, but don’t force yourself to pick a name that doesn’t feel right for you.
I do suggest picking something that’s not your legal name for online interaction, but that doesn’t need to be a formal Craft name – it could be a nickname, or something like “JenInMN” or a username like other online usernames.
Things to consider when choosing a name
Names are powerful, and they shouldn’t be picked lightly. When you’re getting started, take your time. Some useful ideas are:
- Don’t change names frequently – it’s hard on everyone around you to remember what to call you. (Especially online.) If you do make a change, do what you can to help people out (putting the old name in your profile or signature for a few months, for example.)
- Sit with a name for a while before you use it with others. Try calling yourself that name in private. How does it sound to you? Ask others what they think privately.
- Think about how easy it is to spell or pronounce. (Jenett is surprisingly hard for people, even after the “Like Janet, but with more e at the beginning” as a guide.)
- Think very carefully before picking a deity name, or a very very focused name that commits you to a very specific goal or outcome. Names that are important to you, but that can be interpreted in a range of ways are generally easier to live with.
[last edited December 25, 2016]